“I have the profound belief that urban growing and urban supply benefits the entire community. On the right scale it can change the way we think about where we get our food from and the way in which we grow it,” says Shaun Alpine-Crabtree of The Table.
Since partnering with architects Allies & Morrison eleven years ago, he has sourced and promoted local food such as Bermondsey’s Kappacasein, Little Bread Pedlar, and vegetables from St Mungo’s ‘Putting Down Roots’ project.
Local food is very much “a celebration of what is possible in the city” says this-one time chef of Villandry. He is not alone in his thinking. Across London, there is a growing number of eateries that are championing produce made within the M25.
Clerkenwell Kitchen, Stepney City Farm Cafe, Mews of Mayfair and Farmstand are just that now list local coffee roasters, microbreweries, bakers and community growing projects among their suppliers. Even chef supper clubs like Chicken of The Woods are including London-made cured meat like Crown & Queue in their line-up “showcasing total and utter seasonality”.
For some, seasonality and being local has led to growing herbs and vegetables like at The Culpeper’s rooftop farm and the recently opened Craft London. With its own kitchen garden designed in partnership with gardener Alys Fowler, Craft London also roasts its own coffee, smokes fish, cures meat, ferments vegetables, and bakes its own bread. Further north at the very popular The Good Egg, you’ll find a cafe that smokes its own fish and meat, and bakes its own bread, as a part of its middle-eastern inspired cuisine. At Stepney City Farm, the farm’s reared livestock and fresh produce is the mainstay of its cafe’s seasonal offering.
“For us it has always been about being close to the maker, sourcing produce as local to us as possible and having a relationship with our suppliers,” say Neil Gill of Season Kitchen. A neighbourhood bistro in Finsbury Park, his menu includes not only local producers like Hansen & Lydersen, Wildes Cheese and greens from Growing Communities but he also grows edible flowers, courgettes and herbs. “We do this because it keeps the chefs in touch with what’s in season and sympathetic with our producers.”
This is not to say that a locally sourced menu isn’t without its challenges. While the market has matured in the last three years (with gin, beer, and honey being prime examples), how local producers meet demand and sustain the quality of their produce is a concern for many chefs. Many have seen more than one supplier go under as they fail to make the transition to a more commercial enterprise. This is to say nothing of the cost to the producer themselves of upscaling equipment, production facilities, and staff.
However the benefits of promoting locally grown and produced food are too numerous not to persist. As each of these eateries show, thinking locally forges deep roots with the community, supports local artisans and engages us in important dialogues about what can be grown and produced in our cities.
“At this stage of London’s development it is important to get chefs involved and get them committed to putting locally grown produce on the menu” says Alpine-Crabtree. Gill holds similar views saying that, “the producers are only going to get better and more professional, if the restaurants support them and vice versa.”
How effectively chefs, producers and local growers work together is thus key to increasing the number of eateries that feature London produce on their menu. Tate, Stepney City Farm Cafe and The Table are examples of this.
Tate regularly collaborates with London’s food and drink producers on its museum menus. Square Root London has created sodas for Tate using seasonal produce, including foraged ingredients from Hackney-based John the Poacher. The museum has also worked with Sacred Spirits to develop its own gin. Such projects not only promote local produce but importantly invest in these businesses.
Stepney City Farm Cafe has a similar approach to how it works with its suppliers. “When we started we wanted to find people that had the same values and ethos as the farm”, explains Amy Goldstraw, cafe assistant. Three years on, they continue to work with Climpson and Sons, Dalston Cola and Joe’s Tea. As for The Table, the team is in discussion with St Mungo's about their growing season to help them plan ahead for restaurant demand.
As for our role in getting more local produce on the menu - the answer is a simple one. Advocacy. With many chefs confessing that their knowledge of what's available locally is by word-of-mouth, this is our opportunity to promote what is being made in the city, to champion our favourite food and drink producers.
Farmstand, 42 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, WC2B 5AJ
Clerkenwell Kitchen, 27-31 Clerkenwell Close, EC1R 0AT
Season Kitchen, 53 Stroud Green Rd, N4 3EF
The Good Egg, 93 Church Street, N16 0AS
Stepney City Farm Cafe and Farm Shop, Stepney Way, E1 3DG
The Culpeper, 40 Commercial St, E1 6LP
Mews of Mayfair, 10 Lancashire Ct, W1S 1EY
Chicken of the Woods, Hornsey Town Hall, N8 9JY
Craft London, Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10 0SQ
Originally published in Jellied Eel, Issue 52, Autumn/ Winter 2016